Mini-Review Roundup #9
I’ve been checking out some recent releases from the unknown side of the indie landscape, and finally gathered up enough of them for another roundup. This is a very special roundup, too, because for once we’re covering more good games than bad! All of the following titles except KIDS were sent to me by their developers, for reference, but you know that doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. What matters is the quality of the experience, and we actually have some quality to chat about today!
Plenty of games are loaded with symbolism, but most are not entirely symbolic on their own. It should be no surprise that KIDS is, being the second high-concept experience from the makers of Plug & Play. This isn’t a title for people who want a quick action or puzzle fix, instead serving up twenty to thirty minutes of intense, visceral metaphor which I’ll leave you, the astute consumer, to suss out. I assure you it’s not too hard to grasp, though you may be somewhat distracted by the thundering crowds and churning digestive tracts involved.
There is very little gameplay here, a fact that the store page does not hide with its accurate characterization of “interactive animation”. Each of the game’s many scenes has a few objects or entities you can click on to make do something, or click near to make do something, or wiggle the mouse around to make do something. There are no choices or branching paths that I can see, which means everyone will be coming to the same conclusions by way of featureless humanoid action. What those conclusions are is up to you, I suppose, and reaching them is certainly interesting enough to warrant this title a look.
FINAL VERDICT: YAY
It’s hard to think of any genres more bloated than the poor puzzle platformers, which makes basic entries all the more difficult to sort out. But titles with solid mechanics, tight controls, and charming art deserve recognition even if they’re not breaking new ground, which it why I’m here telling you about Mekabolt. It has a great little premise too, about a Jurassic Park-esque island of robots where the little clunkers go rampant. There’s a backup system that’ll get them all back in line, but you’ve got to gather up all the batteries to power it. Don’t worry, you’ll have a better time of it than Samuel L. Jackson did.
Your caretaker avatar comes equipped with the titular Mekabolt, a sort of gun that shoots bolts that stun, flip, or otherwise mess with the many rampant robots in your way. The puzzles are all pretty focused on this mechanic, allowing you to make platforms by stunning enemies, flipping them to blast open passages, and so on. They’re simple mechanics that ramp up over the course of nearly a hundred stages, without any sort of bosses or special challenges but also without any difficulty spikes or frustrations. Coupled with a vibrant pixel art style and pleasant tunes, Mekabolt is a solid puzzle platformer that can provide a good hour or two of basic fun.
FINAL VERDICT: Acceptable
I feel like a big part of the appeal of platformers is platforming across a variety of levels. Aside from speedrunners I don’t think there’s anyone out there who’s entirely satisfied playing the same level over and over and over, so I’m a little mystified by the existence of 1 Screen Platformer. True to its name, this is a platformer with just one screen, a fairly expansive temple complex of spikes, lava, spinning platforms, and lethal traps. You’ve got three characters you can hustle through this thing with, each with their own objective; reach the end, collect all the glowy bits, or reveal the entire level from fog of war.
Astute readers among you will be able to reason out that these are all the same thing. The path through the level is linear, meaning there’s only one way for the first character to reach the end. For the second character the level is completely full of glowy bits, requiring them to reach the end to collect them all. And the poor third character has to reach every single part of the level, including the very surface of the lava, the deadly projectile launchers, and yes, the end of the level. You can play on an easy or hard version of the level but it only changes the number and pacing of the traps, so the only question here is how long you think you’ll be entertained playing the same level. For me, getting killed by unseen traps dozens of times as the horribly ill-conceived third character sealed the deal for me.
FINAL VERDICT: Nnnnnnope
Retro games tend to fall around specific classics for inspiration, so it’s always fun to see one strike out in different directions. XEYYEX lands somewhere in the realms of Pac-man, Bomberman, or Battle City. Your strange little eyeball is trapped in a grid maze of blocks and monsters, and you’ve got to wipe out the baddies to escape. You’ve got bullets or bombs to do that with, both of which are limited and can be replenished with pickups that constantly spawn in the stage. Time is limited as well, a concern heightened by the fact that you must collect X marks from defeated enemies to win, but they won’t always drop what you need. Balancing your time between nabbing pickups to stay alive and whittling down foes before they fill the stage becomes the primary concern, and it’s one with a satisfying difficulty curve. The graphics are basic and the enemies seem just a little too beefy, but neither of those stop XEYYEX from being a fine little retro action title in a different vein than you might be used to.
FINAL VERDICT: Tubular
I was a pretty good history student, but I don’t remember the Revolutionary War being won by soldiers that run like the Doom Slayer, fire flintlocks with perfect accuracy, get stuck on invisible walls, and shoot mindless, faceless redcoats in between bouts of farming. I might have missed that day in school, or maybe this game just isn’t very good. Taking place in foggy patches of Unity landscape dotted by gray trees and gray brambles, you slide around like a rocket-powered Roomba running into walls that aren’t even there. Your gormless foes will appear from nowhere, shuffling absently through the underbrush to be shot by your railgun of a musket. If they happen to catch you distracted by farming or hunting for frustratingly hidden booze recipes, they’ll silently remove chunks of your life with perfect shots of their own. While I was healing back some of this damage in my sandwich-cookie-looking cabin, it occurred to me that I’d probably enjoy the actual act of sleeping, or perhaps a real-life slog through miserable swamps, more than this.
FINAL VERDICT: Fie upon you!